Ivy is into roller derby, woodworking and hosting sleepovers with her friends. Brooklynn's career aspirations include archeology and working as a makeup artist. These are just two of the young women that Kraft Foods Canada is trying to sell on an old product – by speaking to them one at a time.
The company is in the midst of a campaign aimed at reinventing Crystal Light, a water flavouring that used to be sold only in powdered form. In the past, the brand has been most popular among women ages 45 to 54, but it has been losing relevance among consumers – especially younger ones. In May, Kraft launched a liquid version of Crystal Light in Canada, and since then it has been trying to change that.
"People had forgotten about Crystal Light. Especially the millennial generation; they said it was a drink their mother had in the cupboard," said Kristi Murl, director of cold beverages at Kraft Canada. "It wasn't something they thought about for themselves."
Millennials – the generation roughly aged 18 to 32 at the moment, depending on whose definition you follow – are a hot target for marketers. They represent the best potential for a brand's longevity, if a company can create affinity for a product that they carry further into adult life. They are also picky; and chief among their traits as consumers is a desire to be able to customize products to fit their specific desires.
To do that, Crystal Light's messaging has focused on how those young women are unique and special.
The advertising campaign includes television ads celebrating being "the odd one out" and a large social media effort, all united under the tagline "weird wonderful you." Part of that campaign has been inviting young women to tell the company through social media what makes them special. Its agency, Taxi 2, working with Tinman Creative Studios, has responded with personalized messages on the video-sharing site Vine. Each animated video gives a snapshot of a different customer, counting on the one-on-one flattery to convince those women to further share those videos through their own accounts on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere.
"When you're talking to the female millennial, the sharing with the consumer is really what's going to make this campaign," Ms. Murl said. "We need to be authentic and talk about them."
Kraft learned the potential of this demographic last year, when it launched a liquid water-flavouring additive called Mio, targeted at millennial males. The company's strategy focused on appealing to their off-beat sense of humour, but also on emphasizing how the squirt-bottle format made it possible to personalize the flavouring of each beverage.
Mio was a surprise hit. The beverage mix category had been in decline in Canada for five years, and the sales of the product helped to push it to growth. In the first year, it captured 26 per cent of all sales in the category, according to Nielsen numbers provided by Kraft. Last year's sales of the product exceeded internal forecasts by 350 per cent. And growth has continued: Sales in June were up 52 per cent from the same time last year. Seeing just how quickly it was adopted by young men, Kraft decided it might be able to replicate its luck with millennial women.
The research the company did for its Mio launch taught Kraft that authenticity – or at least the appearance of it – is key with this demographic. It also found that off-the-wall, quirky, funny advertising was most popular with them. Its latest ads, created to promote the launch of a sports drink variety of Mio, have each been seen more than 2.3 million times on YouTube; something about the bizarre humour has struck a chord with viewers.
Kraft was not the only company learning from Mio's launch. Coca-Cola Co. also saw potential in the appeal of personalized products, and launched its own liquid additive, Dasani Drops, last year. It brought the product to Canada with four flavours in May.
"This is clearly a space that has been a little bit sleepy in the past, and represents an opportunity," said David Thomson, vice-president of still beverages at Coca-Cola Canada.
Dasani Drops is also targeted at millennials and, unlike Kraft, it has not focused on one gender over another. (Some Dasani advertising in the U.S., however, is clearly geared toward women.) It is focusing on building awareness of the product mostly with in-store marketing in Canada for now.
"We're in an era of true consumer personalization," Mr. Thomson said. "We are now, through these products, giving customers the opportunity to customize their water any way they like."
In the first couple of months, sales of Dasani Drops have exceeded Coca-Cola's expectations. Mr. Thomson predicts that because of the growth in the category recently, more competitors will launch similar offerings.
For Kraft, the launch also represents an important opportunity to learn about the subtle differences in marketing to women and men in the millennial demographic. While the surreal humour of the Mio ads tested well with males, it has found that women also liked a unique and offbeat message, but are drawn to different kinds of messages.
"For men it's about entertaining, and for women it's about connecting," Ms. Murl said. The brand has had some success with starting a conversation on its social media sites: Through Facebook, they have heard from young women wanting to talk about embracing their scars as part of their beauty, or loving peanut butter on their noodles. The appeal for millennial women is in making the story about them, on an individual basis. "We've been amazed at how much they're willing to share."
Whether through personalized messages, or personalized servings of "Lemonbabe" flavouring, it is beginning to resonate: Since launching its four flavours in the liquid format, Crystal Light has grabbed an 8-per-cent share of beverage-mix sales in Canada, and Lemonbabe has cracked the top 10 best-selling products in the category, alongside all 8 Mio flavours, according to Nielsen data. Nestlé Canada Inc.'s powdered Nestea mix is also in the top ten.
"They all want to be able to control how they receive the message," Ms. Murl said of advertising to younger consumers. "It's no longer about selling them a product. It's about connecting with them in a different way."